Air Conditioning Failure at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall Adds to Mounting Trouble for Oregon Symphony

A temporary replacement for the failed HVAC system is expected to be ready soon, but the symphony will still face challenges, according to president Scott Showalter.

THE TEMPEST: A staffer outside Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. (Wesley Lapointe)

When the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall’s air conditioning system abruptly failed April 27, the temperature during the day was a mild 66 degrees. But with Portland enduring record-breaking heat this month, the race for a temporary solution has grown more urgent, not least for the Oregon Symphony.

Speaking with WW, the symphony’s president, Scott Showalter, said the AC failure “couldn’t have come at a worse time,” citing not only the weather, but financial difficulties and the reluctance of patrons to venture downtown due to fears about crime.

“The No. 1 reason holding people back from buying tickets is no longer COVID—it’s the perceived safety of downtown,” Showalter says. “So you got COVID, you got downtown safety issues, you have historic inflation as a backdrop.”

Three symphony concerts were recently moved to the Keller Auditorium, but venue availability precludes that as a long-term solution.

“We’ve already lost about $35,000 because of the air conditioning not working—and we stand to lose a lot more if we’re unable to perform this weekend and in weekends to come,” Showalter says. “We’ve incurred costs to the musicians’ union for extreme working conditions. We’ve lost revenue from people returning their tickets who didn’t want to move to the Keller, where we were last weekend.”

Regional planning agency Metro, which manages the Schnitz, says relief is imminent. Steve Faulstick, Metro’s general manager of visitor venues, says a temporary cooling unit is expected to be ready in the coming days.

“We have 10 or 12 people working on installation,” Faulstick tells WW. “It’s pretty intense, as you can imagine, to get a mobile unit plugged into the infrastructure of a building like that.”

The symphony has confirmed that its Sunday and Monday concerts are a go; a decision regarding Saturday will be made later today.

Within the year, Faulstick says a permanent air conditioner will be ready, but Showalter is still frustrated. “We’re losing our ability to serve our community,” he says. “It just feels punishing.”

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